Jitz jamming and Flo rolling with Stephanie Lee and Margot Ciccarelli
Do you know the aching but smiley state? That's me now as I travel back from a great few days days in Koln where I joined in with the Movement Inspiration event that Carsten Stausberg organised in his dojo.
I sort of found the event by accident, Facebook showed it to me but I should know to check the Yizong Deutschland events page often because Carsten researches great teachers for excellent seminars. So I kind of went on faith, I didn't carefully read what I was getting into, I had no real idea who Margot Ciccarelli was but I trust Carsten and I had been roommates with Stephanie during my first Fighting monkey workshop. I knew she was someone with skill and integrity and who I like being around. None of that has changed except now I know Margot and if I ever get married I will invite to sing at my wedding.
Enough introductions, what did I get myself into? Ummm. I'll explain better if I introduce more.
So Stephanie comes from twenty years of dance, she is a Co founder of the Trybe movement centre in Hong Kong and has chosen to throw herself into BJJ, like Margot she was preparing for the European championships in Lisbon. Stephanie from quiet and discrete Malaysian Chinese to lighting up rooms with spontaneous dance mixed, smiles and connection to the people in the room.
Margot is a BJJ competition pro and founder of Nomadic ID (IBJJF European Open Champ 2017, IBJJF Asian Open Champ 2017 – 2016, IBJJF Pan Pacific Champ 2016, IBJJF Long Beach Open Champ 2017, IBJJF Pan American 2nd Place 2016,
UAEJJF Abu Dhabi Pro 3rd Place 2016) based between Hong Kong and New York with some serious skill. She is mixed Italian Cantonese brought up in London, but who has lived all over the place which gives her an amazing accent (one of many). I didn't really see Margot do quiet and discrète but she does light up rooms with spontaneous dancing, singing and has super enthusiasm to share her love and knowledge of BJJ. She is clear as a teacher too.
What Margot and Stephanie presented were Jitz jamming and Flo rolling. These have both a how/what and a why. Let's start with the how/what.
Essentially Jitz jamming is dance using BJJ movements and principles as a base. So lots of contact, lots of exploration of body weight, sensitivity, and contact. Also a mix of going with a partner cooperatively and resisting in various ways. Music and musicality is also a big part of it, the emphasis is on expression and capacity to keep in constant movement, which requires balance, awareness and control.
Flo rolling is very similar, but the emphasis is slightly different. Flo rolling is closer to normal sparring in BJJ, except very importantly it is without the desire to win or control. However there is a more active search for position, just without the need to keep the position or finish a technique. The goal is more to create an endless loop of jujitsu rather than move to a conclusion.
Now for whys.
As a BJJ player there are some very practical reasons to train this way. The first is that hard training breaks most bodies down in time. Hard rolls can leave me exhausted and stiff, and generally the harder the roll the greater risk of injury. Injuries suck.
So taking a softer or lighter approach to training increases the capacity for training. It does other things too. In BJJ it's easy to get stuck in a position. While this can make for interesting problem solving it limits the opportunity to develop other important attributes such as the capacity to move smoothly between positions (and the accompanying mental maps of the many routes between them). Both Jitz jamming and Flo rolling are about maximising the positions, the transitions, the routes and quality of movement.
When the mind is freed from the goal of winning it can attend to other tasks, like developing a sensitive connection to the partner. This helps with the ability to apply techniques with less force, to create balance points for sweeps and to gather information about how a partner moves. The attitude is ‘how can I make my partner a smarter player?’
These formats can be used to explore and build new techniques that would be shut down instantly in harder sparring too.
As such Stephanie explains she is most interested in training this way to be a better fighter whereas Margot uses Jitz jamming for the sake of performance and to be a better dancer.
Jitz jamming is also a gateway. Many people are intimidated by BJJ, and many others are put off because when they first go to class and roll the overwhelming sensation is of helplessness. Some people stick through that, others find their interest, moral or enthusiasm crushed as well as their physical bodies. Some people cannot afford injuries. Jitz jamming and Flo rolling can introduce the skills without some of the the physical or emotional risks. Even without the skills they introduce the sensations of BJJ, the sheer fun of the physical play.
During the four evenings Margot and Stephanie shared the teaching and the demonstrations. Each session started with some warm-up, alone or with a partner leading to games which introduced the vocabulary of BJJ, floor movement, guard passing, footwork, weight, rolling and pummelling (the wrestling drill, not what you do to younger siblings). The games and drills were chosen as a set of progressive steps adding complexity, physicality or technique to build up to less constrained play, all to music. On the first evening informed by contact improvisation jams which can last hours I had the pleasure of a nearly 20 minute uninterrupted roll with a single partner. It was interesting how the quality of movement mind and interaction changed in that time.
I really enjoyed watching Margot and Stephanie teach - half of this is there enthusiasm, and half is their quality of movement - which is smooth and also exudes enthusiasm. Watching Margot’s footwork and level changes I asked Stephanie i f Margot had ever practised Capoeira. The answer No. Then I joked to Carsten that she was doing koubu baibu Bagua footwork (but better than most Bagua players). Another case of parallel evolution - or humans moving like humans.
So far I have not seen videos that do justice to what I’ve seen Margot and Stephanie do together. When they play together the flow, control and variety can be beautiful. I often find myself grinning with the joy of it. That was not true of most of us, we mostly bumped and stumbled around each other. But that’s the point, and made the moments of smoothness and discovery even more remarkable to personal experience.
The majority of people who were there came from Carsten’s BJJ group, with a few grapplers coming from elsewhere and a few people with no grappling practise. Everyone was open and enthusiastic to what Stephanie and Margot has to say - though some people had more trouble than others going from the control to the cooperation mindset. Smaller people tend to catch the concepts quicker, probably because having someone forty percent heavier on top doing their best to stop you from moving is not always pleasant. On the other hand bigger people may have more to learn in developing their mobility.
Not everyone in the BJJ community like what Margot and Stephanie are doing. That’s normal, I understand. There is a tendency in life to avoid what is difficult and move towards what is easier. This happens a lot in martial arts, and over time can lead to martial arts ino fantasy land. BJJ people probably do not want their art to become lie woo-woo Systema or Taiji (I think of flo-rolling a bit like push hands - and not all Systema or Taiji is woo). Also from a cultural perspective BJJ is full of t-shirts and rashguards with pictures of fierce animals like pit bulls, apes, and snakes, with extra muscles, extra teeth, and liberal quantities of skulls, Hardcore BJJ folk may be concerned that Jitz-jamming could lead to tie-dye rash guards and Acro-yoga hippiedom. Ah the loss of style!
What defends against this is that Margot and Stephanie are both competitors. Neither of them are saying “if you Jitzj am for ten years you will become invincible. ‘ they both recognise the need to put in the hours of hard rolling with tough opponents whose intention is to control and submit. It’s not meant to be a substitute, but a complement, just as Thai fighters spar lightly for rhythm and distance but use pads when they want power, and use the combination when they fight. At the end of each session Margot and Stephanie were both open to normal competitive rolls with the attendees.
Right now Jitz jamming is young. It builds on and evolves from old traditions and it is just beginning to define itself as an art in itself, and I’m curious how it will develop; BJJ is extremely popular even trendy at the moment, which means the potential audience is quite large. .BJJ is an art that builds resilience and toughness in a society of the ‘easily offended’ and Jitz-jamming builds sensitivity and awareness to alternatives in a (BJJ) culture of push through pain
When I was a kid we ate sweets called fruit gums (or were they fruit pastilles). The joke was that the blackcurrant ones were the best, and the company should sell tubes of just blackcurrant sweets. Eventually they did. In some ways I think of Jiz jamming a bit like that. What do I like most in BJJ? I like the flow, the play, the contact, the moments where my partner surprises me with a sweep I didn't see coming and the moments when I surprise myself with a cool move that I didn't know I knew. Being crushed into a mat, or having an elbow lever open a closed guard are not so high on the list of likes. Ultimately I don't think the only blackcurrant tubes did so well. The blackcurrant tasted better after a boring orange or not really identifiable green. Though I Jitz jamming can be something that is enough on its own I think it'll flourish best when still connected with the intense and competitive flavours of BJJ, getting the tap is still pretty fun after all.
Would I recommend that you take a workshop with Stephanie and Margot? Absolutely, If you get the chance go and play with them.
Thanks again to Carsten for the organisation, to Margot and Stephanie for the inspiration.